by Fikile Mazambani
Zanele Muholi’s name has become synonymous with her visual activism which she calls “Visual/ Art activism – an artistic approach to hate crimes” such that one can almost overlook that she is a master at how she arrives at that visual.
On 28th of October 2013, Zanele became the first South African to be appointed as an independent video and photography Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts/Hochschule für Künste Bremen in Germany.
The artist was officially welcomed to her position by Bremen’s Minister of Education and Science, Prof. Dr. Eva Quante-Brandt who presented her with her appointment letter.
The occasion was even more special because the university was also marking their 25th anniversary.
This was an inspirational time for fellow South African photographer and filmmaker, Themba Vilakazi, who was wearing many hats on that day.
As an African photographer himself, Vilakazi felt encouraged and in awe of Muholi’s accolade. “I have never heard of anyone in South Africa who has been bestowed the honour of a professorship. I have heard of honorary degrees but this is just on another level.
Now the next stop is the Order of Ikhamanga!
They have to consider the body of work”, he says passionately, challenging the South African government to honour one of their own as they mark 20 Years of Democracy in 2014.
Professor of Media Aesthetics, Prof. Dr Claudia Reiche believes Muholi has earned her stripes and deserves the title. “I think that Muholi is a wonderful artist, rightfully renowned in the art world as well as in the LGBT activists’ contexts.”
Muholi will be resuming her lectures on December 3, 2013 and will be “free to teach the students of digital media and others from the faculty of Art and Design during some block seminars, in a way she prefers” Dr Reiche confirmed. “I hope Zanele Muholi’s personal and artistic courage will inspire students with the courage to pursue their basic questions in
Life and Art.”
The Prince Clause Award laurette’s persistence has paid off. After graduating from Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg, she dove right into her work and started making a statement with her camera.
Faces and Phases is one of her most visible projects to date.
She knew that there were no positive images portraying lesbians and that if she, as a member of that community, did not break some doors down, no one else would.
Where there was once a void, there is now an over flowing archive.
Vilakazi says “Photography used to be a rich man’s indulgence but it has shifted, but then again it has not changed for everyone because many black families do not have family pictures. I do not have pictures of my great grandfather and grandfather.
Faces and Phases changed that. It is an archive that will say these faces existed at this particular phase. It allowed those often relegated to the shadows to come to the forefront.”
Muholi’s works are a strong show of her advocating for human rights of the LGBTI community. She says of her work “no matter how you feel about the LGBTI community, one cannot deny our existence. We need to say we are here and work hard and be consistent” she says. She created an archive of ‘family’ portraits that future generations can pull from.
“Whether you accept the LGBT persons or not, you must acknowledge that these are people who actually exist. If they were your family, you would not portray them in a compromising way.
This is why I had to take a stand and do something.”
On how she felt about this honour, she got quiet in her answer as she spoke of it being a bittersweet moment for her.
She wished her late mother would have been there to celebrate the fruits of her labour – literally. “This energy that creates comes from her womb really. I miss my mom.”
She quickly changes gear as she becomes commanding again, emphasising that this is an attainable goal for anyone who reaches for it.
“I want any young person to know that this is possible. We just have to work harder be consistent, focused and relevant in what we do.
We also need collaborations. I am made by the people and I serve the people.
I am always humbled by their kindness and the way they have embraced my ideas.”
Muholi has come full circle, starting off at the Market Workshop in Johannesburg driven by a frustration of not being able to see herself portrayed in any positive media, to perfecting her skill when she got her Master Fine Arts: Documentary Media degree
at Ryerson University, right down to now becoming the disseminator of knowledge.
She feels humbled and says this is bigger than her.
“We are doing this for the collective, for our grandchildren tomorrow.”
In 2013 alone, Muholi has surpassed even her own standards, winning the Fine Prize for an emerging artist at the 2013 Carnegie International, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
She is being honoured with the prestigious Prince Claus Award, to be presented in Amsterdam in December 2013.
She won the Index on Censorship – Freedom of Expression art award in London in March, and the Mbokodo Award for Creative Photography in August.
On the 2nd of November 2013, Muholi presented her new work at Sharp Sharp exhibition, La Gaite Lyrique in Paris.